Helping a Friend or Family Member with Depression or Bipolar Disorder Part 1:

Mood disorders such as bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depression) and depression affect millions of people. Their family members and friends are affected too. If someone you love has a mood disorder, you may be feeling helpless, overwhelmed, confused and hopeless, or you may feel hurt, angry, frustrated and resentful. You may also have feelings of guilt, shame and isolation, or feelings of sadness, exhaustion and fearAll of these feelings are normal

Things to remember:

  • Your loved one’s illness is not your fault (or your loved one’s fault).
  • You can’t make your loved one well, but you can offer support, understanding and hope.
  • Each person experiences a mood disorder differently, with different symptoms.
  • The best way to find out what your loved one needs from you is by asking direct questions.

What can I do to help?
Keep in mind that a mood disorder is a physical, treatable illness that affects a person’s brain. It is a real illness. It is not a character flaw or personal weakness, and it is not caused by anything you or your family member did.

  • Don’t ask the person to “snap out of it.” Your friend or family member can’t snap out of this illness any more than he or she could overcome diabetes, asthma, cancer or high blood pressure without treatment.
  • Educate yourself about your loved one’s illness, its symptoms& its treatments.
  • Give unconditional love and support. Offer reassurance and hope for the future.
  • Don’t try to fix your loved one’s problems on your own. Encourage him or her to get professional help.
  • Remember that a mood disorder affects a person’s attitude and beliefs. When a person says things like “nothing good will ever happen to me,” “no one really cares about me,” or “I’ve learned all the secrets of the universe,” it’s likely that these ideas are symptoms of the illness. With treatment, your friend or family member can realize that this kind of thinking is not a reflection of reality.
  • Have realistic expectations of your loved one. He or she can recover, but it won’t happen overnight. Be patient and keep a positive, hopeful attitude.

How can I help someone who has symptoms of depression?

Depression may cause someone to have feelings of unbearable sadness, guilt, worthlessness and hopelessness. The person does not want to feel this way, but can’t control it.
Make sure the person’s doctor knows what is happening, and ask if you can help with everyday tasks such as housekeeping, running errands, or watching children. Help your loved one try to stick to some sort of daily routine, even if he or she would rather stay in bed. Spend quiet time together at home if he or she does not feel like talking or going out. Keep reminding them that you are there to offer support.

It can be helpful to say things like:

  1. “I’m here for you.”
  2. “I care.”
  3. “I may not understand your pain, but I can offer my support.”
  4. “You are a worthwhile person and you mean a lot to me.”
  5. “Your brain is lying to you now, and that is part of the illness.”
  6. “Don’t give up. You can get through this.”


How can I help someone during a manic episode?

Mania may cause a person to believe things that aren’t true, make big plans or life changes, spend money to excess, or do other things that may be dangerous. Do your best to keep your loved one from doing things that might be harmful. Urge him or her to put off any plans to start a big project, spend a lot of money, drive a long distance, or anything that sounds dangerous to you. He or she may insist that everything is under control. You may need to ask other friends, family members or mental health professionals to intervene and help keep your loved one safe.

Don’t make demands, threats or ultimatums unless you are fully prepared to follow through with them. Keep yourself safe. 
What if I think the person might be considering suicide?
  • Take any threats or casual mentions of death or suicide seriously.
  • Don’t assume the person is just trying to get attention.
  • Encourage your friend or family member to hold on, &help them get professional help right away.
  • Don’t promise that you will keep your loved one’s thoughts or plans a secret. You may need to tell a doctor or family member to save your loved one’s life.
  • Offer your help. Offer to listen.
  • Let your loved one know their life is important to you and others. 
  • Make sure your friend or family member cannot get hold of any type of weapons, large quantities of medication, or anything else that might be dangerous.

What about me?

It is important to take care of yourself, and it is normal for you to have symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression when someone you care about is ill. It’s important for you to build your own support system of people who will listen to you and be concerned about your well-being, including friends, relatives, and possibly a doctor or therapist. You might think your problems are minor in comparison to what your loved one is coping with, but that doesn’t mean you are any less deserving of help and comfort.

Take time out for yourself& make time to do things that relax you. You will be best able to support the person you care about when you are healthy, rested and relaxed.


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